It's eyeliner a-go-go tonight. There's a sell-out crowd pushing its way into the long suffering Underworld, and almost every eyeball in the throng is heavily outlined in black. Now, I know what you're going to say. Just another goth gig, right? But not so. Because this audience - younger, angstier, and a bit more indie-ish than the usual London goth contingent - is what you might call the goth/emo crossover crowd. In general, there is not much connetion between these two scenes, cosmetic similarities notwithstanding. But, in so far as a crossover exists, The Birthday Massacre are cunningly positioned at the precise point of intersection. That's got a lot to do with the fact that the venue is sold out tonight - because, of course, a crossover audience is very likely to be a larger audience than could be conjured from one scene alone.
So, let's see what we're throwing at the crossover kids. First band on stage is a well oiled D.U.S.T. Copiously refreshed and definitely in a punk rock kind of mood, the band turn in a set that might lack a little finesse and nuance, but certainly isn't holding back on the attitude. Driven along by thunderous basslines, enlivened by thrashed-out slabs of guitar, they kick off the evening's entertainment in uncompromising fashion. 'Fame', in particular, is a slow-burn build up to a huge shuddering climax. There's even a dressing room anecdote about the headliners. 'We've been sitting backstage drinking with The Birthday Massacre,' remarks guitarist Ben. 'And let me tell you, they're the best bunch of people that you will never meet!' Cue puzzled faces all around the venue, as the audience tries to work out whether they've just been insulted or not.
The Screaming Banshee Aircrew crank things up with all the verve we've come to expect, but an unexpectedly rearranged line-up. Singer/violinist Jo is nowhere to be found, much to the consternation of the band, who have to begin without her. Belated and breathless, she eventually appears. 'I was in a queue for the toilet!' she says, a case of too much information if ever I heard one. The 'Crew are nothing if not showbiz troupers. They know how to fill a stage and work a crowd. Frontman Mister Ed leans out over the monitors and compels the assembled emo kids to pay attention. Affable and jocular when chatting to the crowd, he transforms himself into a shape-throwing shaman in the swirl of the music. The emo kids seem impressed, but they like the occasional between-song big-ups for The Birthday Massacre even more. It's an easy way for a support act to get a cheer, of course: simply namecheck the headline band in front of a large crowd of their fans, and disarmingly bask in the applause. Trouble is, of course, it's not applause for you, and when Mister Ed signs off at the end of the set with yet another plug for the upcoming headliners, which naturally results in instant cheers, I can't help thinking that he's short-changed his own band. We've just seen a fine set. The crowd should be cheering for the Screaming Banshee Aircrew!
At last, here are those upcoming headliners. The Birthday Massacre are a Blondie for the GCSE generation. The boys in the band are suited, booted, and heavily styled. Their visual function is to set off the anitcs of the band's vocalist, Chibi - an ebullient young lady who seemes to have named herself after a brand of Hungarian kitchen equipment. I'm sure I knew someone once who had a Chibi fridge. She bounces about the stage with huge energy, and favours us with an endless repertoire of goofy, wide-eyed expressions, as if an invisible hand keeps pinching her bum. She's the focus of everything.
In fact, it's probably not too outrageous to suggest that Chibi is The Birthday Massacre. Look at it this way: you could replace any of the boys, and you'd still have The Birthday Massacre. Take Chibi away, and you'd have...well, not much. The sound of the band is, essentially, pop music with powerchords. It's upbeat and accessible, and for all The Birthday Massacre's supposedly 'noir' aesthetic, entirely positive and cheery.
That's the band's secret, I suppose - uncomplicated, boisterous pop with just enough in the way of robust guitars and an edgy image to appeal to the pissed-off-with-everything kids - and a smattering of passing goths, too. I can't say it's the kind of stuff which floats my boat, possibly because I can't quite rid myself of the thought that The Birthday Massacre are a band designed by a committee for maximum teen market penetration. But Chibi's on-stage goofing is entertaining to watch, and the lads deliver their stuff with impressive verve. For now I'm happy to stand here and observe from a distance, even if I'm unlikely to get down the front and swoon over the band, like the emo kids in the front row. I guess, in order to really get it, I'd need to wear a lot more eyeliner.
For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.